Make Memphis Style Paper Sculptures With Kids

This throwback paper art project utilizes folded colored cardstock in the patterns and style of Memphis design to create amazing avant-garde 3D paper sculptures, challenging kids to experiment with dimensional forms with outrageously fun results!

If you’ve been following us on social media for the past few days, you know we’ve been celebrating ’80s week along with a few friends! As part of our art & design day, we revisited the classic ’80s design style of Memphis-Milano (one of my favorites!) to inspire a variety of throwback art projects.

If you were a big media consumer in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you might recognize the art and graphic design style from movies & TV shows like Saved By the Bell, Beetlejuice, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. If you were old enough to have lived through the fad like I did, you probably had a school notebook, walkman, or bedspread that used its patterns (I had ALL three!). Companies like MTV, Esprit, and Swatch used many of the same graphic elements.

A variety of our brightly colored Memphis-style folded 3D paper forms stacked on a white table against a green background.

Inspired by the furniture that made this style famous, we came up with this simple sculpture-building project for kids that packs a big learning punch. In addition to motor-skill practice (easy cutting, taping, rolling, and folding) kids get to experiment with combining colors, patterns, and shapes in a variety of ways. It’s also a fantastic lesson in scale, balance, and spatial relation.

Six Memphis-style mini 3D paper sculptures made from folded sheets of patterned paper sitting on a white tabletop in front of a green background.

The most wonderful thing about this project is that they can create almost anything they can imagine out of it! Flowers, trees, houses, animals – these shapes can be combined, embellished, drawn on, or imagined into whatever they want them to be!

There are so unique ways to experiment with sculpting paper. For a totally different type of paper sculpture, make your own paper mache food art. Or turn paper bags into incredibly cool and imaginative soft sculptures of creatures or DIY mushroom sculptures.

To make your own Memphis-style paper sculptures, you’ll need:


  • A few sheets of colored cardstock (something heavier than regular copy paper or construction paper works better for this!) in 2-4 different colors.
  • A few sheets of white cardstock to print our patterns on to – unless you want to make your own with a marker or brush!
  • Scissors
  • Clear tape (regular old Scotch tape worked great)

How to Make Paper Sculptures in the Memphis-Milano Style – DIY Instructions:

Make paper sculptures in the memphis design style with kids

Print our Memphis-Milano pattern pages or create your own.

A preview of our printable Memphis pattern sheet set

You can download and print out our Memphis-Milano style pattern pages, or use a wide marker/large paintbrush to create your own line, grid, dots, or squiggle patterns! Once you’ve printed them out – guide your kiddos through the rest of these instructions!

Pick out a few other pieces of plain colored paper. We used bold, bright colors, but put together a few that you really like!

Trim paper to different sizes and simple shapes

Cut colored card stock and our DIYMemphis patterned paper (or your own homemade kind) into simple shapes like squares, circles and rectangles.

Cut your papers up into different sizes of squares, rectangles, and circles – we made some arcs too just for fun! 🙂

Fold your paper pieces into simple 3-D forms and shapes.

Fold your shapes into simple forms and secure with pieces of clear tape or craft glue.

It’s time to make your shapes 3-D! You might want to experiment with rolling and folding a couple of sheets using scrap paper first. To make a cylinder, all you have to do is roll one of your pieces of paper into a paper tube shape.

Once you have rolled your paper into the size cylinder you’d like, use a small piece of clear tape along the edge at each end to secure the sides. Once you’ve made a cylinder shape, try making a cone.

Experiment with creating different folded forms.

Fold your shapes into simple forms and secure with pieces of clear tape or craft glue.

Experiment with folding your paper into halves, thirds, and quarters, unfolding, then taping at the edges to create prisms (3-D triangle or rectangle shapes) or cubes (3-D square shapes).

The ends of your shapes will be open, and that’s exactly what we want – this will allow you to stack or slide other shapes in easily!

Create a variety of shapes and sizes.

Create a varied assortment of paper forms to use for your 3D Memphis paper sculptures.

Continue making different sizes, heights, and widths of shapes with the rest of your paper. The more variety you have, the more interesting your set of shapes will be!

Stack and arrange your shapes into sculptures!

Arrange your colorful or patterned forms to create fun 3D compositions or sculptures.

Stand back and take a look at all of your cool shapes!!!! You can stack them up in different ways, arrange them by shape or color, move them around or make them into something awesome – use your imagination to think of different things your shapes could be!

You’ve finished making some amazing 3-D shapes – if you want to keep going, try adding the circles you cut out – or other shapes! You can add accordion-folded construction paper strips, push crumpled paper pieces into the tops of your forms, glue on painted paper pieces – embrace the spirit of process art and see where it leads you!

You can also stack some of your shapes on top of each other in different ways. Try cutting a small line in one of your circles and slide it over the edge of a cylinder. You can create fun sculptures and towers by experimenting with different techniques and variations.

Six Memphis-style mini paper sculptures made from folded sheets of patterned paper sitting on a white tabletop in front of a green background.

More ways to use these 3D paper forms for art play and learning

  • Make a series of paper forms of different sizes that you can stack by size for simple math exercises.
  • Make it a game by seeing how many shapes you can stack or add to a sculpture before it topples.
  • Are you an art teacher who’d like to use this in a classroom, or looking for an art project multiple kids of all ages can participate in? Have pairs or teams work on building structures together for a large collaborative paper sculpture.
  • For a paper process art project that focuses more on experimentation than building and combining forms to create a cohesive set of sculptures, lay out the simple folded paper forms with other art mediums like clay, playdough, paints, and decorative craft supplies. Let your young artists investigate what happens when they combine those elements in different arrangements. 
A variety of our brightly colored Memphis-style folded 3D paper forms stacked on a white table against a green background.

For more open-ended art lessons, try our scrap wood process art sculptures, painted cardboard and paper rainbow road project, or make art in MOTION with our kinetic shape paper art! 

For more paper art projects that explore pattern and shape, try our scrap stamp shape collages, or a simple color and pattern exploration exercise.

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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